Why should Arjuna, a late Bronze Age hero in the epic Mahabharata, be worshipped today and receive popular devotion, not just in India but throughout the world? Mahabharata scholar Kevin McGrath addresses this question through an examination of Arjuna’s presence in the Pune Critical Edition of the epic. According to him, the heroic Arjuna, the perfect warrior, acquired such significance because of his dual nature—he exists simultaneously in two worlds, the human and the supernatural. This duality is intrinsic to the nature and character of Arjuna, as well as to the narrative of the epic itself.
Through his text-based analysis of the mortal-immortal Arjuna’s significance, the author explores what charaterises this category of ‘hero’, figures who are neither deities nor simple mortal beings, but who make up a unique group of beings by themselves. He also draws connections between the myth of poetry and its potential for ritual and cult; the book is a commentary on the poetic thought processes that formed the basis of the early tradition of composition in preliterate poetry. As the first study of the late Bronze Age period in which the Mahabharata is set, McGrath also provides us with an understanding of how kinship systems worked during that time, and how political alliances functioned.
With its well-tested and innovative concepts and methods of analysis that will change contemporary understandings of epic heroes and heroines, this book will appeal to students and scholars of Indian history, cultural studies, language and literature, and sociology.
Kevin McGrath is Associate of the Department of South Asian Studies at Harvard University, USA.